OPINION: It's high time we improved aged care
Attwood Marshall Lawyers
THE stories coming out of the aged care sector are heart-wrenching and we haven't even opened the Aged Care Royal Commission yet.
With public submissions into the proposed terms of reference recently closing, I reflected on my experience to make a submission.
Helping families as a Wills and Enduring Power of Attorney lawyer, I have visited many nursing homes and have first-hand knowledge of how the sector works.
While most aged care facilities do the right thing, there is a fraction who use exorbitant nursing home 'exit fees'.
These fees, which can be as high as 40 per cent of the initial price of a home or unit, exploit the elderly and rob them of their life savings after they have passed away.
I have negotiated on behalf of dozens of elderly clients and beneficiaries to stop nursing homes from charging these fees.
Without the help of a lawyer, these exit fees are typically only detected after an elderly person has died - much to the shock of bereaved beneficiaries.
In addition to exit fees, some facilities charge 'refurbishment fees' to renovate or 'modernise' rooms or units for the next person to move in.
In many instances these refurbishment fees are grossly unfair.
A recent Attwood Marshall Lawyers negotiation led to significantly reduced costs for an elderly Gold Coast woman who wanted to move into a facility with her pet.
Her exit fees, before negotiation, were in excess of $90,0000 for up to one year of occupation, and $150,000 if she occupied her unit for two years or more.
In a Northern NSW case, an aged care facility told us an exit fee of $20,000 was owed to refurbish a kitchen, carpets, wall paint and blinds.
As the executor, we refused, with tradesmen completing the works for $8000 instead.
Such cases show a Royal Commission into the Aged Care sector is long overdue.
My public submission into the proposed terms of reference called for a review of exit fees, refurbishment fees and extra services charges.
Elderly people are vulnerable - some have dementia or other illnesses which prevent them from making considered decisions - this can lead to exploitation.
Based on years of experience, we recommend a full review of exit fees', 'refurbishment fees', and 'extra services charges', so older Australians can be assured they are given a fair deal.
Many elderly clients have signed complex nursing home contracts or leases without legal advice, and are urged to do so by some unscrupulous proprietors.
Seeking proper legal advice before signing or entering into these agreements should be mandatory.
It is also critical that mandatory staff-to-patient ratios are implemented, performance data becomes publicly accessible, and a pro-active complaints authority or ombudsman is established.
Sadly, Attwood Marshall Lawyers do have current elder abuse matters before us. We want to make sure no recommended reforms are swept under the rug.
The sector must be made accountable - we need to improve the standard of care for our older generation.
- Debbie Sage, Wills and Estates, Attwood Marshall Lawyers
* Today we start a new column with local legal firm Attwood Marshall Lawyers. The company traces its foundations to post-war 1946 when the late Eric Attwood began a practice in the Tweed. Today, the company has offices at Kingscliff, Robina, Coolangatta and Brisbane. Contact Attwood Marshall Lawyers on 02 6670 1000.